Somewhere in France

Somewhere in France

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

French-Canadian Nursing Sister Ernestine Champagne

“The death has occurred in Montreal of Nursing Sister Ernestine Champagne, who succumbed, after an illness of three years, to consumption contracted on service in France. Miss Champagne joined Lieut.-Col. Mignault's French-Canadian Hospital Unit in 1915,” reads an article on page 10 of the March 28, 1919 issue of the Quebec Chronicle. “For some time she served at the St. Cloud Hospital where working under canvas she contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, and was invalided home in 1917. Miss Champagne who, was the daughter of the late Justice Champagne, had been decorated by the French Government for distinguished service in France, and leaves her mother (nee Aglace Ethier) and four brothers and two sisters.”

Ernestine Champagne was born on January 27, 1880. As her obituary mentions, she was from a distinguished French Canadian family. At 35 years of age, she joined the CAMC. She was a tiny woman—four feet, seven inches—with brown eyes and dark hair. The unit she joined was led by Lt. Col. Arthur Mignault. Mignault was a wealthy Montreal physician. A former Montreal militia officer, he had donated $50,000 in 1914 to raise the 22nd (French-Canadian) Battalion, the famous Van Doos. He also established a French-speaking Canadian hospital unit located in a former racecourse in St. Cloud, a suburb of Paris. There were 520 beds in the hospital. According to the Montreal Gazette, the beds, operating rooms and other facilities were in tents. It rained constantly, and soon the racecourse was a muddy swamp infested by rats and fleas. Champagne’s work at the hospital would have been demanding and she seems to have earned the respect of those around her, given the fact that she was decorated by the French government for her service. Unfortunately, it may have been her hard work and the rough conditions that led to the illness that claimed her life. She was invalided home on the hospital ship Letitia in May 1917 and died in March 1919, another nursing sister who gave her life in the service of her country.

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